Valve Index: Still A Great Choice in 2021?
April 23 2021
The VR market has been on a rollercoaster ride in the last few years.
Now it’s time to take a look at the Valve Index in this new light.
- Valve Index Comfort: 9 out of 10
- Impeccable Build Quality and Design
- Total Adjustability
- Modability and Extensibility
- Valve Index Visuals: 7 out of 10
- Field Of View
- Valve Index Controllers: 8 out of 10
- Valve Index Controllers Are Extremely Accurate
- Valve Index Controllers Support The Widest Range of Interactions
- Valve Index Controllers’ Comfort Is Off Charts
- Valve Index Tracking: 10 out of 10
- How to Setup Full Body Tracking with Valve Index
- Valve Index Audio: 9.5 out of 10
- Valve Index Accessories: A Nice-to-Have List
- Valve Index Setup Instructions
- Will There Be Valve Index Wireless Mode?
- What Do We Know About Valve Index 2?
- Who is Valve Index for, and Should You Get One?
It’s been almost two years since the release of the headset in July 2019.
The headset is still priced at $999, and the question that many people are asking these days is, “Does the Valve Index still offer enough comparable value to command this price ?”
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The answer is yes. We took a deep look into how it compares to the alternatives today and it’s pretty clear that even today, Valve Index still offers the best VR experience on the market -- if you’re willing to pay for it
Let’s take a closer look now and see how the Valve Index compares to the modern solutions and why you might consider investing in one.
Valve Index Comfort: 9 out of 10
Let’s address the elephant in the room: Valve Index is not the lightest headset you’ll ever wear. In fact, it’s on a bulky side of VR headsets with a total weight of around 809g (1786lb).
But who said weight precludes comfort? Hundreds of online reviews claim Index to be the most comfortable headset on the market. Having used the Index in our projects for almost two years, our verdict is the same.
Here are three reasons that easily make the Valve Index one of the most comfortable VR headsets available
Impeccable Build Quality and Design
Valve put a lot of thought into using materials that ensure a high comfort level even after long hours of using the headset.
All the soft surfaces that come in contact with your head and face are made with high-quality, antimicrobial woven fabric that is soft on the skin and easy to clean. Meanwhile, the padding was ergonomically designed to distribute pressure evenly and comfortably.
Floating Index controllers that you don’t have to hold, spatial audio that doesn’t put pressure on ears, and high display refresh rates (120hz - 144hz) all serve the same purpose: comfortable experience for any kind of VR interaction.
Valve Index’s hallmark is that pretty much every part of the headset can be adjusted for every head size, face angle, and ear position.
The Velcro top strap adjusts for your headset’s weight to rest evenly on the top of your head, whereas the head strap holds the headset in a firm, comfortable position.
Using the manual IPD adjustment slider, you can set the interpupillary distance between lenses — the current IPD will be shown in the headset display. Valve Index supports IPD between 58 mm and 70 mm and can be fine-tuned down to a millimeter.
For example, Oculus Quest 2 doesn't sport such a luxury and allows for only three fixed IPD positions: 58, 63, 68.
Another Index advantage rarely seen in other headsets is that using a mechanical knob, you can adjust the distance between eyes and lenses for optimal eye relief. This adjustment will help you maximize your field of view, align a sweet spot along the Z-axis, or create the necessary room for glasses.
Finally, you can pivot and slide your ear speakers to ensure they hover properly over your ears for the best possible sound experience.
Modability and Extensibility
Since Valve Index's developers shared detailed documentation on all three products (controller, headset, and base station) to the public under a Creative Commons license, 3rd party companies released a wide range of VR mods that boost the level of Index comfort even further.
For instance, the headset's face gasket is replaceable with a magnetic interface for easy swapping. Companies such as VR cover already provided custom Index face gasket covers to increase comfort and protect foam padding from sweat, dirt, and damage.
Pro Tip: use fingerless gloves or cleaning wipes if you want to prevent your Index controllers from extra sweat and grease building up over time, particularly if you’re a fan of active VR experiences.
Valve Index Visuals: 7 out of 10
At the time of its release in June of 2019, Valve Index was one of the most visually advanced VR headsets available.
But time passed, and now a couple of solid contenders came out that beat Valve Index in some areas. For example, HP Reverb G2 boasts with a higher pixel count, whereas high-end Pimax headsets offer a wider field of view.
Nonetheless, Valve Index still provides one of the most fluid and immersive visual experiences due to a well-balanced combination of the extended field of view and high refresh rates.
Let’s go through key areas that constitute Valve Index visual experience.
Valve Index ships with two LCD displays, each with 1440 by 1600 pixels resolution per eye.
An optimized pixel layout produces 50% more subpixels than OLED screens, resulting in increased sharpness for the same rendering cost.
Additionally, the fill factor is three times better than OLED, reducing the “screen door” effect significantly and producing a sharper image than, for example, Vive Pro headsets.
Valve Index displays have a shorter illumination period of 0.330ms to 0.530ms (depends on framerate), which contributes to improved image clarity both in motion and when you are standing still.
Valve Index comes with custom dual lenses that maximize its field of view without sacrificing edge-to-edge clarity. The lens provides high geometric stability, making you able to look around a scene using not just your head but also your eyes without experiencing distortion.
At the same time, dual lenses contribute to one of the Valve Index drawbacks: a rare glare effect. In low-contrast environments, this effect is typically undetectable but can occur when large, high-contrast elements are placed in front of a dark background.
Field Of View
Valve engineers quickly realized that extended Field of View (FoV) significantly contributes to the level of VR comfort, immersion, and satisfaction. So they made every effort to expand Index FoV without diminishing its other visual qualities.
As a result, Valve Engineers achieved the highest field of view on the market: Valve Index currently boasts 130 degrees FoV, perceived as 120. That’s 14% more than Reverb G2 offers and almost 40% more than Oculus Quest 2 does.
Valve Index achieved that through canted optics, dual lenses, and adjustable sweet spot. Index displays cant outward by 5 degrees, which increases outer FoV and balances the inner FoV simultaneously.
Indeed, expanding FoV is a trade-off: a bigger FoV decreases the angular resolutions as pixels are spread over the larger viewing area.
Valve engineers concluded that coupled with subpixel layout, fill factor, higher refresh rates, optics, and ergonomics, a wider field of view allows Valve Index to achieve a complete visual clarity and the most fluid VR experience.
Pro Tip: Take extra time to find your Valve Index sweet spot using face gasket adjustments. Also, check if your face mask is adjusted precisely in the middle to achieve perfect clarity across the entire field of view.
Valve Index Controllers: 8 out of 10
Nothing beats Valve Index controllers in terms of precision, comfort, and the number of supported interactions. It's that simple.
Valve Index Controllers Are Extremely Accurate
Every Valve Index controller is equipped with 87 sensors that track hand position, finger position, motion, and pressure to determine the user's action with the utmost precision.
All this sensor information, combined with custom software and algorithms, allows for accurate tracking of user movements in challenging VR scenarios such as reaction-based games (e.g., Beat Saber or Half-Life: Alyx) and sophisticated business VR simulations and solutions.
In conjunction with a superior Valve Index Base Stations tracking system in its second iteration, Valve Index controllers are still among the most accurate controllers on the market today.
Valve Index Controllers Support The Widest Range of Interactions
Valve Index controllers facilitate deeper immersion through low-latency finger tracking and a wide range of expressions. Pinch, throw, crush, wave, point, squeeze — there’s a natural feel to any of these interactions when using Valve Index.
The built-in sensors can distinguish between a light touch and a firm squeeze, which adds to the life-like VR experience and introduces new VR interactions like squeezing and crushing.
Force and capacitive sensors help determine the intended release point when throwing objects, while optical and motion sensors measure velocity and trajectory. Finally, the thoroughly tested algorithms and software come together to deliver an intuitive and natural feel when throwing objects in VR.
Lastly, the track button on the face with capacitive and force sensors allows for pinching and pressing and can be used as a scroll wheel, a trackpad, or even a simple binary with haptics.
Pro Tip: Half-Life Alyx game was designed to activate the whole specter of interactions available with Valve Index controllers.
Valve Index Controllers’ Comfort Is Off Charts
Here’s the thing: you don’t need to hold Valve Index controllers.
After strapping the controllers to your hand, you never have to worry about dropping them during virtual reality interactions.
With other headsets, if you want to throw an object or open your palm, you typically have to press a specific trigger or button to mimic this interaction.
That’s not the case with Index. Valve Index controllers support real-life-like interactions: you can throw things, make hand signs, or open your palms in VR the same way you would do that in real life.
You can adjust the strap at the top to three different positions with a swivel hinge to accommodate various hand sizes and shapes.
As mentioned earlier, Valve developers encourage custom mods that can further enhance controller comfort.
A common modification is a booster that wraps around the controller's grip to accommodate people with large hands, prevent unintended controller rotation, and serve as a place for mechanically attached accessories.
The material used for the controller straps is antimicrobial, moisture-wicking, and easy to clean.
The controller’s battery life is approximately 7 hours and depends on how active your VR experience is: movement-packed games and apps tend to drain charge faster. Controllers can be charged via a USB cable and support 900mA fast charging interfaces.
Pro Tip: If you are an avid VR gamer, you might invest in controller covers to make them extra sweatproof and improve the grip. These covers shell the existing grip and increase grip size and thickness, enhancing the controllers’ feel during active playing.
Valve Index Tracking: 10 out of 10
To track your movements in virtual reality, the Valve Index headset utilizes SteamVR Base Stations 2.0 or compatible Lighthouse 2.0 tracking stations that come with HTC Vive Pro.
SteamVR 2.0 stations are currently known as the industry standard for room-scale virtual reality tracking in terms of accuracy, range, and latency.
Every base station covers a 150 degrees horizontal field of view and 110 degrees vertical field of view. The stations sweep laser beams 100 times per second to track photonic sensors on the headset and controllers, eliminating any chance of occlusion or inaccurate tracking.
Although for seating and standing-only VR experiences one base station can be enough, two stations are recommended for optimal tracking.
Two base stations cover 5x5 meters (16 x 16 feet) playing area. With the addition of the third base station, you can cover tricky spots in your room. Using four stations, you can double the playing area up to 10x10 meters.
How to Setup Full Body Tracking with Valve Index
Currently, Valve does not have its full-body tracking solution, but you can track your body movements using the Vive trackers.
With Index, you can use Vive Trackers 2.0 (with blue logo) or newly released Vive Trackers 3.0 as only those trackers will be supported by a 2.0 tracking system that Valve Index utilizes.
For full-body tracking, it’s recommended to use at least three trackers. Since each tracker requires a separate USB port, you might need to purchase a USB 3.0 hub to ensure you have enough free ports.
Pro Tip: Download the OpenVR Advanced Settings tool to adjust your height and width during whole-body tracking for improved tracking accuracy.
Although Valve Index tracking accuracy is off the charts, you might still experience specific issues with your controllers drifting or floating when you are not in motion.
Follow these tips to ensure impeccable tracking:
- Ensure proper positioning of base stations. Base stations should be placed no further than 5 meters (16 feet) apart) and aimed towards the center of your play area.
- Secure the base stations in place. Make sure your stations can't be moved with ease.
- Cover or remove reflective surfaces. Windows, mirrors, and TV or PC screens can interfere with tracking. Try covering or removing reflective surfaces if you experience tracking issues.
- Avoid bright light playing areas. Bright light (and green screens) can also interfere with VR tracking, so make sure your playing area features moderate lighting.
- Check if your computer or laptop is VR-ready. Performance issues such as lagging can mimic tracking issues. Make sure your PC meets VR requirements and upgrade it accordingly if needed.
Pro Tip: Trackable objects should be located at least 0.50 m away from a base station to ensure the best performance, so make sure to stay closer to the middle of your playing area for maximum tracking precision.
Valve Index Audio: 9.5 out of 10
Frankly speaking, at this time no headset comes close to Valve Index in terms of spatial audio quality and immersion out-of-box.
Valve Index features ultra near-field, full-range, extra-aural headphones speakers that hover over your ears without making a direct touch with your skin.
Speakers placed this way support the output format of current VR content while allowing the ears and head to imprint their tonal coloration onto the sound. Besides, a hovering setup is more comfortable and puts less pressure on the ears.
Engineers at Valve audio used BMR drivers to ensure consistent sound quality, even when speakers are slightly misplaced on the side of the head.
As for the microphone, Valve Index utilizes:
- a dual microphone array to narrow directional response and focus on the user’s voice
- dynamic compression to avoid clipping of loud voices
- BMR drivers to reduce external noise pollution while keeping the sampling rate of the microphone stream at a delightful 48kHz.
Interesting fact: Valve engineers used a dummy head model to take response measurements of ear speakers and capture incremental improvements or identify any issues in the future-to-be Valve Index audio subsystem.
Valve Index Accessories: A Nice-to-Have List
Over the two years, a community of professional modders and VR companies issued dozens of accessories that push the level of comfort and usability of the Valve Index beyond what’s already been a high level of quality.
Below are some of our favorite Valve Index accessories to enhance your VR experience:
- Ear space extender. A simple shim developed by a NY-based team of VR modders can be added to your Valve Index audio setup to adjust the depth of hovering speakers by moving the ear speaker in or out relative to your ear.This minor adjustment can help you find a more balanced and comfortable “sweet spot” for a built-in audio system.
(Source) Note: It’s not advisable to set up more than one spacer per ear to protect your system’s integrity.
- Safety Mat. Investing in a safety mat is a great way to ensure your VR safety, but the benefits go beyond that.The mat is particularly effective in small playing areas with many external objects lying on the sides, as you always feel when your feet are on the mat or when you step off to the sides of your playing area.Furthermore, it helps people who experience fatigue or vertigo when spending time in VR by helping your body better orient itself.Since Valve Index tracking stations work best with objects located farther than 0.5 meters from them, a safety mat will also ensure better tracking, preventing you from moving too close to the stations.
- Cable management system.(Source)
Valve Index is a PC VR headset: it requires a PC that meets specific VR requirements and a cable that connects this PC to your Valve Index.
And this cable is tricky.
The majority of the time, it lays on the floor, but sometimes it may get stuck by a table, or worse, you might trip over it while fully immersed in the virtual world.
To prevent that, you can invest in a cable management system. Essentially, it’s a series of ceiling hooks that keeps your cable(s) above the playing area and allows you to fully concentrate on the VR experience without the risk of damaging the cable or yourself.
Or you can wait until Valve finally releases a wireless mode adapter! More on that in the later section.
Valve Index Setup Instructions
- Make sure your PC is VR-ready. Check if your PC meets virtual reality hardware requirements using the SteamVR performance test and update your graphics card drivers.
- Choose a playing area. Valve recommends at least 2m x 1.5m (6.5ft x 5ft) of space for a room-scale VR experience. Make sure there are NO obstacles or objects in your playing area, kids and pets included.
- Set up Valve Index base stations. Make sure your base stations point toward the center of your playing area. Connect each base station to a power outlet. Peel off the protective film from the base station lenses.
- Connect your Valve Index to your PC. Two plugs connect your headset to your PC. Connect the headset DisplayPort cord to your graphics card port. Now connect the USB headset cord through the USB 3.0 port on your computer.
- Connect your Valve Index to the power outlet. Plug your headset into a power outlet using the headset power adapter.
- Launch SteamVR. Open the Steam client on your computer and click the VR box in the upper right corner. Alternatively, press the System button on your controller.
- Run room setup. Follow the on-screen SteamVR instructions to finish setting up your playing area.
Will There Be Valve Index Wireless Mode?
Valve Index does not support wireless mode at the time, and there are no wireless adapters that can turn Valve Index into a tetherless device.
But there’s a lot of evidence that might happen in the future.
In July 2020, Valve registered a patent that outlines a possible wireless version of a Valve Index headset. However, it wasn’t clear whether the patents refer to the adapter for the original Valve Index or a completely new Valve Index 2 headset.
Valve’s patent filed in September 2020 outlines both wireless and adapter-mounted versions of future Valve Index headsets, so a wireless mode is indeed happening for the next generation of Valve Index headsets.
While we can’t say for sure that wireless mode for Index will come out before the second iteration of a headset, chances are Valve Index users will get a tetherless experience one way or another.
After all, a wireless mode is one of the most requested features since the headset’s release in 2019.
What Do We Know About Valve Index 2?
We don’t know much about the Valve Index 2 headset yet. Still, given the number of patents filed over the last year and information from Valve officials, we are confident that Valve Index 2 is already in the works.
Valve Index 2 does not yet have a release date, but we wouldn’t expect it to come out earlier than 2022.
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- Even better comfort. The latest HMD patent from Valve outlines three potential versions of the future headset, all aimed at improving user experience through enhanced ergonomics, weight distribution, and comfort adjustments.
- Wireless mode. The recent patent outlines a wireless version of Valve Index 2 and a PCVR version that supports wireless adapters.
- Updated visuals. Given how far the newest headsets came in terms of visual quality, we might expect Valve Index 2 to yet again set new standards for visual VR experience through updated lenses, increased 4K resolution, wider FoV, and improved black levels.
- Standalone version. After the raving success of Oculus Quest 2, Valve might shift its attention to creating a standalone Valve Index 2 headset for premium segment users that beats Oculus Quest 2 in terms of GPU performance, privacy, content library, and comfort.
Who is Valve Index for, and Should You Get One?
Despite being released almost two years ago, Valve Index is still a strong choice for your next virtual reality headset.
Here are the main advantages that still make Valve Index a good headset for its price:
- Unparalleled tracking. Valve tracking system is still considered the best on the market in terms of accuracy and versatility.
- High comfort. Valve Index set a standard for VR comfort and still is one of the most ergonomically balanced headsets available.
- High-quality audio experience. Valve Index offers the best audio experience out-of-box without you having to buy an extra pair of headphones.
- Modability. There are dozens of mods and accessories on the market that can improve your comfort level even further and adjust the headset to the particular usage scenario.
To balance things out, here are disadvantages of the Valve Index headset:
- High price. The Valve Index VR Kit costs $999, and you’ll need a high-performance PC to run VR applications with it. Given that the headset is approaching its second birthday, it's getting harder to justify such a high price, especially compared to less expensive and more recently released competitors.
- Visuals are getting outdated. Despite that Valve Index still offers premium segment graphics, the headset is no longer a leader in the visuals department. There are already headsets with a better screen resolution (Reverb G2) and higher FoV (StarVR, Pimax).
- No wireless mode. Valve is yet to release a wireless mode for Valve Index. Given that Vive already developed a wireless adapter for their Pro headsets and how widespread the tetherless Oculus Quest 2 is, such a delay becomes a massive disadvantage for all current and future Value Index users.
In a nutshell, Valve Index is still a great option if you have a powerful PC and want the most fluid and immersive VR experience with real-life-like interactions and long-term comfort.
If you want a fully tetherless experience, don't have any issues with Facebook privacy agreements, and want to save some money on performance, try Oculus Quest 2.
Last but not least, HP Reverb G2 is still an excellent option for those who need high-quality visual performance on a budget.
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